what is wrong with killing players? to be clear, i don't mean somehow treating them unfairly but instead mean simply having players die in an encounter?
what is wrong with wiping out a party?
when you soft ball an adventure, when you artificially weaken a module, you cheat the players of a sense of accomplishment. what if another party had to use guile, strategy, or just plain well built characters to overcome the same module.
do we really have such a low opinion of our players that we think they can't handle challenge?
i am the crazy person who makes posts about using coup de grace on downed players because it is obviously the best strategy for a monster to use. i am the person who rolls in relatively plain view of my players so that they know when i missed a critical attack, it was because i missed and not because i have no respect the maturity of my players. so far they don't bother too look.
apparently i am also the bad guy.
i long for game balance, i want intimidate to surrender clarified (and removed). i want saving throw penalties removed completely.
i wish more of you were the bad guys too.
when you keep lowering the bar, people dont bother to rise above it. they lower themselves to it.
Killing players is murder and you shouldn't do it. You'll go to jail and nobody would want to play D&D with you.
Killing characters is something different.
Snark aside, when showing someone new to D&D how to play, I do play it soft. You want to show them the game is fun. Killing their characters means they're not playing. The point is to let them play.
I think you are seriously underestimating the amount of "bad guys" (by your definition) that are here for starters. Secondly I don't quite see where you get your need to tell "most people" (again your definition) that they are doing it wrong, but I am happy that you have found the one true way and are willing to evangelize. As soon as I recover from the revelations I will consider converting, if the D&D inquisition does not have me on the rack before then.
On a less sarcastic note; What I see most people on these board advocate is not soft-balling or lack of respect for player maturity. What is being touted as a Good Thing(tm) is being able to adapt, adjust and generally create a fun experience. This can mean being less than 100% cutthroat effective with your monsters, or it can mean trying to be 110% deadly. It can be choosing not to recharge that burst 3 stun power, it can mean making a paralyze attack into a minor rather than a standard. It can be a lot of things. It depends on reading the players, the situation, the adventure, etc. etc. In my experience it is fairly complicated and almost impossible to define. Still it is generally held by your "most people" to be something to strive for.
Personally I see no problems with coup de grace or wiping out a party if that is how it plays out, but its not a goal. The intimidate thing, i think it is fine as is, the rules give a solid RAW basis for a DM ruling as they see fit. I like it that way and have no difficulty with the word NO.
Longing for game balance is a good thing, but from your words it seems to me you are looking for game balance to come from the rules and their application. Almost as if the interaction between DM, players and adventure is a hindrance to that balance. To me that interaction IS D&D, if I want a game balanced on rules alone, I can play checkers...
This seems to be an issue that crops up now and then and as such has been debated in excruciating detail before. One of the more active threads was: Dale 1-5. You may have already read it, if not, have a gander. No solution is reached in that thread and I am sure we won't find consensus here either, but if its time to re-debate this, then I guess we shall
WotC established three principles or premises which I believe are germaine to your concern.
One, there is no single, right way to play D&D. In the DMG, pages 7-10, the different perspectives of players are highlighted. A group of powergamers who have optimized their characters and coordinated their team will desire a vastly different adventure game experience than a group made of actors and storytellers. No one, not the Global Admins, not me, not you, has the power and authority to say one way is the correct method and all others are incorrect. Once you accept that principle or premise (and it is possible you may not), then it should be easy to accept that we (authors and Writing Directors) cannot tailor every adventure to every style of play. But our not-so-secret weapon is the DM--that human agent who is present at each game table, who hopefully has the knowledge and skill to make those final adjustments and adjudications needed to tailor to the specific players.
In this regard, we tell the DM in the adventure boilerplate:
"You are empowered to make adjustments to the adventure and make decisions about how the group interacts with the world of this adventure. This is especially important and applicable outside of combat encounters, but feel free to use the "scaling the encounter" advice (usually for adjusting to different-sized groups) to adjust combat encounters for groups that are having too easy or too hard of a time in an adventure.
Don't make the adventure too easy or too difficult for a group. Never being challenged makes for a boring game, and being overwhelmed makes for a frustrating game. Gauge the experience of the players (not the characters) with the game, try to feel out (or ask) what they like in a game, and attempt to give each of them the experience they’re after when they play D&D. Give everyone a “chance to shine.” "
Two, the objective of the game is to have fun. To that end, we tell the DM in the adventure boilerplate:
"As the DM of the session, you have the most important role in facilitating the enjoyment of the game for the players. You take the words on these pages and make them come alive. The outcome of a fun game session often creates stories that live well beyond the play at the table. Always follow this golden rule when you DM for a group:
Make decisions and adjudications that enhance the fun of the adventure when possible."
and at the end of that section of boilerplate:
"In short, being the DM for a Living Forgotten Realms adventure isn’t about following the adventure’s text word-for-word; it’s about creating a fun, challenging game environment for the players. Chapters 1 and 2 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide are filled with good information about being a DM for a D&D game."
Third, WotC decided that with LFR, they did not want the perception of a competition between players--these are not tournaments where there will be winners and losers. That freed us to move away from saying every DM must present the adventure as written to strive for consistency of the presented challenge. Instead we strive for maximizing fun with tailored challenge.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Keith (and Claire) have been so prolific in the RPGA and so sought-after as writers and administrators over the course of several campaigns. This post should be placed somewhere that everyone who plays (and especially DMs) in the Living Forgotten Realms campaign can see it. Heck, everyone who plays D&D at all should read it.
I ran the brutal Dark Sun Arena at PAX nine times in two days. The encounters were in general very difficult and the terrain often favored the monsters significantly. Players were often fairly new to 4E and sometimes to D&D and most were using pregens that were released back in January. This was a competitive event where you could win a prize. Thus, I ran it with very little DME, if at all. Keep in mind I am a fairly tactical and experienced DM and I prepped the adventures and monsters very carefully.
The result was a series of bloodbaths. I only had one run that was not incredibly hard run for the table. I had one TPK, one failure due to time (which would have been a TPK), 2-3 additional outright PC deaths, and six tables that were desperate come-from-behind victories. In all honesty, at three of my tables I pulled punches slightly, though nowhere near what I would consider a reasonable challenge level. In every case there remained a huge possibility of failure.
What did I learn from this? I saw a lot of players really surprised and even offended by the difficulty. A lot of players felt frustrated. Some spent several turns taking no action but death saves. Some felt cheated by the difficulty. Some felt their choices in builds mattered little, because the monsters would kill anything they brought to the table.
In all cases I had to work incredibly hard to keep things positive. I did things like ask the person that went down to RP what memory went through their PC's mind as they saw their life flash before them, then used it once they came back up. Often I assured them I am a kind DM in other situations. I underscored the difficulty of this game and the achievement they were after. I suggested things they could do. I celebrated every monster they killed and had the arena respond to every act of courage. It was a lot of work to keep them going in the face of such adversity and run the game. (I will say the need varied from table-to-table). I tried to run different arenas to keep myself from getting too good at running the same encounter.
I came away more convinced than ever that players really have an awesome time when they have a reasonable but difficult challenge. They love a hard-fought victory. But, they do not want to ever feel the game is unfair. They do not want to run out of options or sit out several turns. They want to be heroes and feel like they do cool things. Tables would sometimes go from near giving up in the second round to cheering wildly when they finally won. But, it was overall too much. The Dark Sun Arenas were fantastic but should not be the norm. The regular delve should be easier and more reasonable. LFR should continue to offer DME and to provide tips for DMs to achieve reasonable play levels. DME allows the challenge to really meet the needs of the players. The game is more fun and will attract more players to the game that way.
@Mirtek, if you're not looking for a challenge in gaming, may I suggest pop-cap games or farmville?
I've had bad character deaths at the hand of cheating DMs or imcompetent party members who were the opposite of heroic (cowardly or mean spirited). I've never had a bad character death at the hands of monsters and I don't believe it's possible for that to happen. Sometimes you sit down at a table with 3 dragonborn bravura warlords and a paladin that thinks he's god. Sometimes despite the best planning, the fickle dice gods turn against you.
Point is, Sometimes the good guys fail, that's the nature of storytelling, and that's what D&D (and pretty much every RPG) has always been, creating a story with your characters. There's no rule in any book that says the PCs should win, challenging but fun should result in as many TPKs as utter victories, and very few of both. Modules have failure xp, gold, conclusions, and Story Awards for a reason, it's expected to happen from time to time.
I will never advocate, as a DM, going out of the way to kill PCs (pretty much impossible in LFR, DALE 1-6 and SPEC 1-3-4 excluded), at the same time, I'll never let the players get too cockey, and sometimes a player needs to spend 3 rounds on the ground to realize he shouldn't charge his Barbarian past 3 soldiers to get the Artillery. Hell, that can make for some good, intense and dramatic, moments, and lets a good leader be the hero once in a while (after all, if no one is at risk of dying, he'll never get to shine, which means (s)he probably isn't having fun).
If the PCs (barring Convention PUGs) are a motley crew of poorly made substandard characters, I consider it unjust to allow them to win just because the game isn't supposed to be "too hard", if you aren't going to try to win, you don't deserve to. With the exception of Ms Spellfire, D&D Heroes have a history of "momentary setbacks" as long as their triumphant victories. I for one think LFR needs a little less "here's 5 lurkers in a well lit 8x8 room" and a little more Mr Smith, because anyone can beat the lurkers that couldn't, but beating Mr Smith? That takes a Neo, I mean Hero.
First and foremost D&D is a game of adventure.
I think some players put a little too much effort into their builds, so in a way, I agree with Mirtek. All characters welcome. Not only is the 16 Intelligence Wizard welcome, the 12 intelligence wizard is welcome. It shouldn't just be about the build.
However, I'm also completely on board with "let the dice fall where they may". Roll them in the open, and if characters die..they die." I mean, that's fair too.
Over-optimization can be it's own trap, by the way. You'd think it would make a battle get over with sooner, but then somehow, it ends up doing the opposite while the player pores over his strategic options. And then the DM thinks he has to "beef this up" to "provide a challenge". And then you end up with Paragon level adventures that never quite get done during the convention slot.
That is a real problem, at least to me.
I'm all for changing encounters around, especially to make them more interesting, but I am hoping the optimizers play Glory Tier and I never have to run it Because pacing is far more important to me than strategy and optimizination. As a DM I want to make every run of an adventure unique (even if it's the same adventure you've played 10x already) and when it's at a convention, I want the PCs to reach the ending by the time the slot is over with. Oh and if an encounter is running long? Surrenders and retreats are entirely possible. As a DM, I'd prefer if players spent less than 30 seconds deciding what to do, because I'm going to go as fast as possible myself. I don't "take back" moves in order to avoid opportunity attacks or penalties or situations like "my paladin has you marked, you take damage.." whenever possible. I don't think players should either. Sometimes we blunder. That's ok.
I don't sweat it too much when I've gotten my characters killed (3 times over the courseof the campaign..so far). I've been responsible for a few character deaths. Nobody seems to have taken it too hard.
Something to bear in mind here is that while suboptimal tactics might might seem like "softballing it", the truth is that poor choices are going to happen all the time. So the question might not be, "Should I coup de grace because it is the optimal tactic?", but rather "Would this enemy coup de grace in this situation?"
Remember it is not about what the DM would do or knows. Sure the DM knows that the Uncouncious player is about to be saved by the Cleric who happens to be up in the initiative. But does the Troll know this? Would it attack the downed player?
Or sometimes the enemy just simply makes a poor choice. It happens. I sure seem to do it more often than I like. So if the Orc decides to attack the fighter that has him marked instead of the Squishy rogue who only has a few hit points left... It might be that the fighter just simply made the orc mad and orc's don't like that, tactics be damned! Is this "Soft Balling"?
i appreciate the reasoned and thoughtful responses, despite the fact that i strongly disagree with your positions i still appreciate your polite responses.
mirtek, i think deserve is a poor choice of terms in your example with a rogue and a wizard.
i think we can safely assume that in your example the rogue is built in a fashion that would be generally agreed to be mechanically superior to the wizard. regardless of whatever anyone "deserves", unless you are "soft balling (we could use a better term for that)" the rogue will be more effective. not overwhelmingly more effective, but more effective none the less.
but what is the point of being more effective, of being better than, the wizard if it doesn't matter what character choices you make because the dm will just change everything to be easier to accomodate the weaker characters?
and why aren't you bored?
do we want to promote a style of game where people don't care? i view that as a recipe for long term failure. certainly people should simply stop looking at books and other resources for ways to improve their characters if it doesn't matter what choices they make. taken to an extreme (and adding that caveat to make clear i do not intend to set up a straw-man, but only to make a point), we don't even need to make remotely functional characters, or for that matter roll dice or have rules.
i mention all of this not only as a hypothetical, but because of a practical issue. most characters where i live are sub-optimal. not usually aggressively awful, but certainly a little on the weak side. however there is one person who has made a new level 11 ranger whose character is borderline useless. his to hit with twin strike (after we virtually forced him to take twin strike) at level 11 is +11. there are fights where he can only hit on a 20 and when he does it isn't a crit. should we all lose any comprehension of challenge to accommodate his inability to function?
what about the players who learn the rules and make good decisions, but are sitting at a table with people who dont bother to learn how to play beyond a most basic level and just sit there and use some bad at will attack all the time (to be clear, they are in fact ineffective. they do not have a character that is optimized to use a specific at will). for over a year we have sucked all the challenge out of our games if these players were at our tables.
for what seems the millionth time, it is a slow persons responsibility to speed up and not a fast persons responsibility to slow down. as long as you keep catering to the lowest common denominator quality of experience will only go down and no one will ever have an incentive to improve or get better.
finally, the serious players are the core of your community, we are the glue that holds this increasingly thankless enterprise together! but even if we were not, even if our ideas were in a minority, that would not mean we were wrong! and i absolutely guarantee that after a short adjustment period to having their decisions matter, the players who adopt their extreme laisez faire attitude would still find a way to have fun.
players don't deserve to win or lose. success in a module is not a players divine birthright. and if you dont have to work for it, it has a lot less meaning!
As a DM I am not a good tactician and I don't aspire to learn how to be one. Frankly, I DM because we always have less DMs than Players and it's fair that everyone takes his share behind the screen so that others can play. I often don't even read the combats in advance, just a short glance to see what minis I need to bring and 95% of my time preparing an adventure is spend on getting the stuff between the combats into my head. If you mind my style, feel that my battles are too easy (even when I don't actively softball, I am just not good at running monsters anyway) then feel free to be the DM instead (although better not for me, I don't think we would have much fun with each other) because I do it as a service to our little LFR community and not because it's a great job I'd die to be allowed to do.
This leaves only the question which should be used as the default assumption. And here I still say err on the side of the slow players. Even if a DM fails to recognize the boredom of the fast players and fails to hard ball the mod for them, then they have nothing lost but having had a mod that was overall too easy for them. And that's it, a closed case not carrying over to the next mod when it will be more to their liking.
If a DM fails to understand how close a slow group is to disaster and kills a few of them, this might have no mechanical effects on the following mods they play, but it can have a lasting impact on the stories they had in mind for their PCs personality and further development.
hmm, i think i need to clarify. i did not intend insult, and my position was not sarcastic. i do appreciate your candor and your polite replies. i am sorry if you took offense, that was not the intention. the "wrong about everything" comment was intended to express my disagreement with your position in a light hearted fashion through an absurd exageration.
since tone does not translate in text i realize i should have made a different choice of words. to that end i will edit the orriginal post.
thank-you for the rapid response mirtek, and your point about how the rogue would still proceed to dominate the encounter is actually at the crux of the matter. in the example presented, i assumed that there was a risk of failure in the hard ball version, and thus a challenge, while in the soft ball version whatever risk of failure is largely negated. it is true that the rogue may further dominate the encounter in a soft ball version, but the point was that the rogue gets robbed of the opportunity for challenge and a sense of accomplishment in order to accomodate the wizard.
i believe it is wrong to hold the rogues intersts as secondary in importance to the wizards, and this goes to the heart of the fundamental disagreement.
I respect both play stiles, I just have a different view on which one used as the default assumption causes the least harm. Maybe my opinion is currently skewed from my very last LFR mod being a quasi-TPK (3 of 6 dead, one making death saves for most of the encounter and the last two winning a fight they should have lost if not for the DM being shocked of how the battle turned out starting to soft ball them to victory. Really, 1[w]+10+1d6 (for flanking) for monsters in a 1-4 mod? That's what my striker will do at level 10! So mods like this becoming the norm scares me a little)
PS: Thx to (technically improper) DME I once had a player (out of six) to ask the DM to just hardball only his character because he can take it and at the same time be softer on everyone else.
PPS: Now I will withdraw until tomorrow after work, so at the moment no further answers from me,
If I now react with "wow, this PC looks effective, I better up the challenge", am I not robbing him of his intended result? If I just increase the attack bonus or pretend to have rolled higher numbers to still hit the maxed defenses PC, where's the point in maxing defenses in the first place? If I challenge the maxed attack bonus with higher defenses on the monsters, why should he have bothered to get such a high attack bonus?
In praxis I would try to give the rogue player a higher challenge if he asks for it (to the best of my limited tactical ability) while going softer on the wizard at the same time.
IMHO there's also an important difference between wanting to be challenged and being happy when one gets it and wanting to be challenged and still being unhappy when one gets it as long as not everyone else is forced to to be challenged in the same way (aka why does he get the same reward despite having an easier time? Because you asked for a harder time for yourself and he for a softer time for himself, that all).
I don't think anyone in favor of DME is advocating letting a weak table that plays high have an easy time of it. Choices have repercussions - they should just be reasonable given the various factors.
Ok here is the primary problem that I see with what the OP is asserting.
DM vs Player mindset.
Allow me to explain. I have come to realize that I have a very tactical mindset when it comes to 4E. (and other games) I can often bowl over a group of reasonable gamers with tactics when I run an encounter. I can intuit how best to use the encounter against the players with relative ease. Now I say this not to brag, because often it is a bad thing. I have been a Delve judge at several major cons now (Gencon, DDXP) and have learned a lot in doing so. One of the things that surprised me is how different the same encounter could be. The characters were the same and the opposition the same, but I witnessed a massive variance in the result and not one that I could blame on luck/dice. The players and their tactics really did account for the remarkable variation. That is what the OP is not taking into account. By playing all-out all the time, the OP is pitting his skills against the players to see who can "metawin". What they should be doing is pitting the encounter against the characters to create a fun play experience.
Couple of notes here. I am not trying to offend, just explain my position and perceptions. Also, sometimes players want the meta-challenges. I had several table, while judging the Delves, ask me to pour it on. They wanted no punches pulled and my best effort. Yet I seem to remember myself and the players having fun.
In the end finding a balance between fun and challenging is crucial to the art of DMing. The old addage "know your audience" is an important part of finding that balance. At the end of the round a "win" is not calculated by the hit points of the survivors, but the adulations and gratitude of the players at the table.
Honestly, are we talking about a Role-Playing Game or a War-game here?
The goal in an RPG is not to win, it is not a competitive game and people play to have fun.
Since each person has a different definition of fun, it's the DM's job to adapt the game to the group's tastes.
Some players love to play a hardcore, challenging and fully optimized game. Others don't. Some people enjoy the "realism" of a TPK when players make terrible tactical decissions. Other people simply swear they will never play the game again after suffering a TPK.
Builds, challenge level, game balance... all those terms are just tools you use, reject or modify depending on your group's tastes.
If you don't enjoy playing with a particular group, your only option is to go and find a new one that fits your style.
This is weird... Am I not repeating the first entry in every RPG rulebook: What is Role-Playing Game?
I'm with ya, Nolorfin. The discussion is here because historically the vast majority of RPGA adventures where meant to be run exactly as written so that every table had a "fair" run. Your sitting at Mika's table or Bob's table would not matter in terms of fairness. The concept was firmly in every run being pretty much the same, minus the skill with which the DM presented the material (descriptions, RPing NPCs, etc.).
In many cases this was entirely desired. Look at many of the classic modules that came from RPGA and you will see they were scored - you could win the event. Players of LG often both expected and demanded a fair run because there could be a competitive aspect - in Geoff there were clear (though friendly and fun) competitions between adventuring companies and groups of players to see who could best take on a B.I. or premiere module.
LFR from the very beginning said this was not the case. Playing one time at Enrique's table is not supposed to be the same experience as the game going on at Sarah's table. Variance is even desirable when you are replaying.
Similarly, in olden days the prime directive was arguably to run the adventure as written as well as you could. Language emphasized running the adventure with care, precision, and professionalism. The prime directive now is clearly to achieve "fun".
The question isn't whether each adventure should be run consistently but how much variance to allow. The guidance from just about everyone in charge suggests they intend a pretty high amount of variance in order to achieve fun.
Don't get me wrong, I have no issue with players being able to win, however I'm not going to naievely say that the 12 int wizard has any *right* to win at an APL combat, it's certainly possible and I'm not going to penalize them any more than they did themselves. The player clearly built the character around succeding/having fun at other things and they are likely going to do so, but combats shouldn't be any easier for them because of it. Unless of course you're also advocating trivializing skill challenges for groups that are optimized for combat but may be sub-par both at roleplaying (as players) and skill challenges (as characters).
Part of the reason LFR mods have Low and High tiers, and options for 4/5/6 players at the table is this specific reason, so that you can adjust the module to allow the players a better (or worse) chance of succeding. Along with that bgibbons said, Risk is tied to Reward, if you play Low or treat the module as having fewer monsters, you also reduce the XP gain, in most cases this is built in, but if you let 6 players play as if there was 4 you have to, by the rules, also adjust their XP gain. Players get to choose the difficulty, queue the Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Choices have consequences, that's life folks.
This is a lot of the same issue I saw with the High-Level pre-gen characters, people being able to play at a certain level without ever having had to put in the effort to get there. I am certainly not alone when I say that it ruins my fun (since we like to use that word here) in the game when, not just at my table but, I see someone else is literally handed what I've had to work my butt off for.
Wizards with 12 int are NPCs that give me quests to rid their basement of giant rats, they aren't Heroes.
I understand, Trollbill, but are living campaigns the place for competitive play? Trying to prove yourself against other tables... in a campaign that sees a lot of new and casual players, that has RPers as much as optimizers... that is a really nebulous and widely ranging target.
I think those wanting a competitive spirit should just ask their DM to run things hard. You can even come up with a set of Glory type of changes. For example, try asking your DM to do the following:
You can come up with other things, such as reducing recharge rates for non-controlling powers, but the above changes are less swingy and in general are more reliably challenging. You could even have this on-call. Maybe you insult the ancestors of the monsters and that triggers the above, so you can do it only when needed.
To me, that kind of change is much more of a "proof of how good you are" than asking the entire campaign to consistently hit some specific level of challenge. A specific level of challenge will undoubtedly miss the mark of what is reasonable for many levels (and will likely not be what "very strong" tables desire).
What we have currently is difficulty based on XP guidelines. That is what really sets the limit, but it is a very limited determinant in that the same XP can produce an easy encounter or a very difficult one (with monster synergies, terrain synergies, good tactics, strong monsters for the XP cost, etc.). Personally, I think this is an ok way to do it, with playtesting being used to verify the challenge is reasonable and the overall target being that an average appropriately-tiered table can succeed. In a few cases (specials, story arc conclusions) you have higher XP and should also see a harder challenge design. Here it may be ok to aim for an average table to succeed less often - but such a measurement is really very rough. Playtesting can only really tell you "it is hard" and maybe why, but won't give you anything like "60% of casual tables will succeed". It is very common for the feedback from three tables to be "very easy, put in more x", "very hard, take away x", "seemed fine".
Bgibbons makes good points about tier. I feel comfortable enough with tiering and DMing to be able to take tier into account when determining how to DME. I don't know if others feel this way. When a table is of low average party level but wants high, I take that into account and won't make the same adjustment I would make if a reasonable-for-tier table is up against a very cheesy/unfair encounter. If a table playing up is having a hard time, my general approach is to run the first encounter as written and then ask them if they want to switch to low tier (and only get low tier rewards) or continue on and face likely death. If a table playing at-tier or down is having a tough time, then I am more likely to pull a few punches to make it fun.
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